Analysis: Too late to resuscitate Labor

The sun came out, and so did Labor’s members. There were long lines in polling stations across the country, forcing an additional half hour of voting.

February 11, 2019 21:54
2 minute read.
Avi Gabbay

Picture of Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)


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A day that started with rain, which could have prevented Labor’s elderly voters from casting ballots, ended up having surprisingly pleasant weather. The sun came out, and so did the party’s members. There were long lines in polling stations across the country, forcing an additional half hour of voting.

So were the forecasts of the political analysts eulogizing Labor as wrong as the weather experts?

The answer came more than an hour before polls closed, when there were two reports on the nightly news that could decide the party’s fate.

First came a report on Channel 12 that former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi had decided not to enter politics ahead of this election, “because he wanted to be part of a revolution, and it won’t happen in this election.”

The report was not confirmed, and there is still a chance that Ashkenazi will change his mind ahead of the February 21 deadline for lists to be submitted to the Central Elections Committee.

But Ashkenazi was only going to enter politics if he could bring Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid into a joint list with former IDF chiefs of staff Benny Gantz and Moshe Ya’alon. He was going to be the third chief of staff who could potentially put the party over the top. Without him, it will be much harder for Netanyahu to be defeated.

The second report was Netanyahu’s announcement to religious-Zionist leaders that he will not invite Gantz to join the government that he intends to form if he wins the April 9 election. He said that he intends to form the same right-wing coalition he did four years ago.

Those two reports together made it increasingly likely that Gantz will be the leader of the opposition to another right-wing government. If the current polls do not change dramatically, Yesh Atid will play second fiddle in that opposition, as it did for the past  four years.

Even if Labor ends up with more seats than expected due to electing a strong Knesset slate, it will at best be the third-largest party in the opposition. While Gantz, Ya’alon and Lapid sharpen their knives against Netanyahu, Labor leader Avi Gabbay is likely to face the fate of so many of his predecessors.

The candidates whose election he celebrated on Monday night will each turn against him and try to replace him in yet another Labor leadership race. The polling stations that were full on Monday will likely be full again in another few months.

When Gabbay came to the WIZO building in Jerusalem that served as the capital’s polling station, he was greeted by indifference. There was no “Ooh Ah, Mr. Prime Minister.” He came in silence and left in silence, like a ghost.

Shortly before he came, analysts were telling a crew from Al Jazeera at the polling station that Labor and the Israeli Left were not dead, they were just suffering from a temporary case of poor leadership.

Labor will elect a new leader in what is expected to be the first such election in the post-Netanyahu era. If that new leader can attract voters more than Gantz and Lapid, Labor may return to its former role as the main alternative to Likud.

If that happens, the sun will truly shine on Labor, and the much-eulogized party could end up having a future that is unexpectedly bright.

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